Financially Fit Friday 10 Tips For Talking Finances With Your Spouse

Traveling Abroad on a Budget

When people think of visiting popular overseas destinations like London, Paris or Japan, they’re often concerned with extravagant hotels, overpriced food and costly flights. However, a big trip doesn’t have to bring big expenditures. In fact, with a little planning and some self-discipline, traveling abroad on a budget can be relatively simple.

Economical Travel

One of the easiest ways to save is by going during the off-season. In Europe, for example, this is between October and April. Flights are usually cheaper, as are hotels, restaurants and fuel.

Don’t just take the first flight that fits your departure and return dates — do your research. If you’re willing to sacrifice some time, it can be cheaper to have some layovers. For instance, it may cost less to fly into Ireland, then catch the connecting flight to Paris, than it is to go directly to Charles de Gaulle.

If you’re traveling alone or as a couple, use public transportation when possible. In London, an Oyster Card gives you access to the subway, bus, railways and boats for less than the price of renting a car and paying for gas. On the other hand, if you’re with a group of adults, splitting the price of a single rental car could be more cost-effective.

Modest Accommodations

Skipping the main tourist season means you’ll already spend less on accommodations, but you don’t have to rely on hotels. Many bed-and-breakfasts offer rooms at lower rates and sometimes provide plenty of free amenities. Hostels are an option, and you can look up pictures and reviews online before booking. You can also try home exchanges or hospitality services, such as Airbnb to see what kind of deals are available.

Cheaper Cuisine

If you have access to a kitchen, consider buying groceries and making your own meals instead of eating out. Look for what’s in season and take advantage of the local produce. Additionally, you can pick up groceries that don’t have to be cooked and stop for a picnic.

If you’re vacationing on a budget, three meals a day isn’t necessary. Dinners at restaurants is usually the most expensive, so by eating a big lunch and only snacking for the rest of the day, you’ll save some money and some calories, too.

Inexpensive Entertainment

Check out a guidebook — printed or online — before beginning your journey and look for free tours, good hikes, scenic locations and other inexpensive excursions. Search for deals and discounts on entertainment. Once you reach your destination, talk to locals about their favorite sights and activities. You may discover adventures, vistas and prices most tourists don’t find.

If want to bring souvenirs home, avoid airport and hotel gift shops. Look for flea markets, farmer’s markets and swap meets. Not only will you be able to purchase handmade items from local residents, many vendors are open to bartering, letting you walk away with a great bargain.

Finally, if you’re planning on international travel, make sure to notify your financial institution. This will help prevent any unnecessary issues with your credit cards. America First is also part of the CO-OP Network, which allows you to get cash from any ATM in that partnership without paying fees.

Traveling to another country does require some financial preparation, but these money-saving tips should help the price tag become more manageable.

Financially Fit Friday 10 Tips For Talking Finances With Your Spouse

Six Tips for First-Time Homebuyers

Buying your first home can be intimidating. After all, making the leap from renting to ownership should not be taken lightly. However, with proper preparation and planning, you’ll find it’s not as scary as it seems. Here are six tips for first-time homebuyers.

1. Make Sure You’re Ready

Before purchasing a house, you’ll need to be willing to plant some roots. It takes time to build equity and experts suggest staying in a home for at least five to seven years to make it worth the investment. Plus, selling isn’t as easy as not renewing the lease on your apartment.

Next, check your credit score. A good one — 700 or above — usually means you can get a lower interest rate on your mortgage loan. And that means a smaller monthly payment. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll be paying utility bills, insurances and, in some cases, association (HOA) fees. Figuring out how much you can afford now will help prevent financial stress down the road.

And you’ll have to plan for a down payment. Most mortgage lenders require 3% to 5% of the price up front. However, you don’t want to completely deplete your savings, because it’s important to maintain an emergency fund. Steady income and smart spending are essential when you make the decision to become a homeowner.

2. Prioritize What You Want & Need

Come up with a list of features you want in your future residence. This may include size, design, location and area crime rates. This will help narrow your search. Differentiate between needs and wants. There’s no such thing as the perfect house, so you also need to decide what’s flexible and what are deal-breakers.

3. Find a Real Estate Agent

It’s crucial to work with a Realtor you trust. Choose someone with experience in the neighborhoods you’re considering, then talk to friends and family about their past buying and selling situations. Interview several real estate agents to find someone with whom you are comfortable.

4. Get Pre-Qualified

It’s important to seek loan pre-qualification to know what you can afford. This also makes the mortgage application go faster when you find the property you want. America First can help you through this process and determine which loan best meets your needs and financial goals.

5. Make an Offer

Once you find the house you love, it’s time to make an offer. Your Realtor can help you in coming up with something reasonable and communicate it to the seller. It’s acceptable to offer slightly less than the asking price, but some sellers are willing to negotiate and others are not.

6. Inspections are Key

Never buy a home until you have it inspected. There could be serious flaws, such as mold, structural damage, wiring issues or plumbing problems that could end up costing you in the long run. Hire a professional inspector and make sure to read the report thoroughly. Resolve anything major before you close.

Following these guidelines should provide first-time homebuyers with some stress relief. You can also check and search for local homes by location, price and type, as well as bathrooms and bedrooms.

Happy house hunting!

Financially Fit Friday 10 Tips For Talking Finances With Your Spouse

Standby Power: Unplug & Save

Take a moment to think about every device you have plugged in at home. Now consider how many of those actually need to be.

The truth is, most electronics don’t always have to be attached to outlets. In fact, many of these perpetually plugged-in gadgets still use power when they’re turned off, costing you money you didn’t even know you were spending.

What Is the Standby Power Price Tag?

The average household routinely leaves around 40 appliances plugged in 24 hours a day. The U.S. Department of Energy has estimated that standby power — also known as leaking electricity, phantom load or vampire draw — can account for up to 10% of your annual electric bill. That means you could be throwing over $100 annually down the electrical drain.

What Are the Culprits?

Certain things like refrigerators and DVRs need to stay hooked up, for obvious reasons. However, identifying problem electronics can help you save some money. Older items with manual knobs, switches & dials, didn’t use a lot of standby power. Almost everything these days comes with a digital display. LED lights don’t use a lot of energy by themselves, but if you see a light on when something is turned off, it’s a power sucker. Computers, laptops, TVs, cable boxes, gaming consoles, coffeemakers and iPod docking stations are some of the biggest culprits when it comes to standby power usage.

How Do I Prevent Power Leaks?

The simple answer is to unplug devices when you’re not using them. While this seems like common sense, it can be a little tricky in practice. After all, no one wants to do that with 40 products when they leave for work, then hook them back in when they get home. The idea is to determine what you can unplug and connect those devices to a power strip. That way, you can easily switch all of them on and off as needed. If a daily disconnect is too daunting, consider doing it when you go on vacation or take a weekend getaway.

As you can see, unplugging unnecessary electronics is not only good for the environment, it’s also beneficial for your wallet. Plus, once you’ve gotten into the habit, you can take that extra money and invest it in an America First dedicated savings account, earning dividends instead of letting it slip away through a power outlet.

Sustaining the Principles at the Heart of our Credit Union

By John B. Lund, President & Chief Executive Officer

Dear members,

It’s my privilege to thank you for your membership, loyalty, and confidence in America First. I’m also grateful for the opportunity to present an annual report of the credit union’s performance & initiatives. Our volunteer and employee team strives for excellence each and every day, remaining passionate about developing and delivering superior financial services. We experienced another outstanding year and are well-positioned for a bright and vibrant future.

As we look forward in an ever-changing industry, I often ask myself why I would choose America First as my primary financial institution. Many benefits come to mind, but there are four core issues that shape how and what we provide to members: relevance, differentiation, sustainability and heart.

Relevance —To be relevant, something must have meaning or value given its position, situation, and circumstances. Last fall, my wife and I were fortunate to spend some relaxing time in Hawaii. While playing golf, a couple named Bruce & Jen approached, motioned to the logo on my shirt, and proudly said they were members of America First. Bruce explained that he joined many years ago while stationed at Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah. Although they had lived all over the world, they always maintained their membership, saying the credit union continued to serve them well, helping them achieve their financial goals in each stage of life and regardless of their location.

Differentiation—The marketplace is cluttered with endless offers, gimmicks and, at times, predatory propositions. We, however, work diligently to develop trust and lasting relationships, helping members keep more of their money, simplify their busy lives, and reach their unique objectives.

We are proud of our convenient and meaningful products & services, such as free checking, free bill pay, free Visa® debit cards, and free 24/7 account management through our award-winning online and mobile applications. Free credit scores accompany our checking accounts. We foster robust dialogue and communication with secure email, social media, contact center, and live chat channels. Members can also take advantage of our top-tier savings vehicles, including money market, IRA, health savings & certificate accounts, investments, insurance, and trust services. America First is an industry leader in home loans, auto and RV financing, and merchant card services, as well as business services that include loans, checking and Visa. Members can also take advantage of free financial counseling, educational seminars, and document shredding events throughout the year.

Our Visa cards are truly outstanding. In addition to no annual fees, the lowest possible rates, free personalization and many other features, our cash-back option pays members 1.5% on all purchases. Participants earn extra rebates & discounts with our merchant-funded ABC Deals program, bringing members thousands of real dollars every year. Further, recognizing the prevalence of fraud and personal data compromises in today’s digital world, we now provide free identity theft recovery plans to members and their immediate families with Visa credit accounts. Recovery service is also available for purchase at significant discounts of up to more than 75% for those without our credit cards. This is an amazing differentiating benefit, as other institutions charge $25 to $50 per month for similar or even inferior services.

America First is fortunate to operate one of the region’s largest branch networks, with 121 locations and more planned for 2017. This presence sets us apart, but perhaps the most important distinction we have as a credit union is our continual focus on service levels. Our loyalty, retention, product utilization, and net promoter scores are among the country’s best, yet we always endeavor to improve.

Sustainability—Maintaining integrity is crucial to any sustaining organization, especially in the financial services sector. The economy has its cycles, life has its ups and downs, but you can rest assured that integrity in all facets is constant at America First.

We take pride in being fiscally sound and independently rated among the best credit unions in the nation. We closed the year with $844 million in capital, up 10.41%. Our net worth ratio was 11.32%, far above the 7% mark that is considered well capitalized by the National Credit Union Administration. We received an unqualified opinion from an external auditing firm regarding our 2015 financial statements, and expect another unqualified rating when the 2016 official review is complete.

Assets increased by 14.41% and were above $8 billion. Our return-on-assets ended the year at a strong 1.17%. Membership continued growing at a healthy pace, finishing at nearly 819,000. Deposits increased more than $926 million, up 14.75%. Our year-to-date loan growth was 16.37%, netting $835 million. Our loan delinquency rate was a low .79% and the allowance for loan & lease loss was more than adequate to absorb any portfolio deficiencies.

New offices opened in Summerlin, Nevada; Santa Clara, Washington Fields, Jeremy Ranch, Traverse Mountain, and West Point, Utah; Boise, Idaho; Tempe, Arizona; and our new Innovation Center debuted in Salt Lake City.

Heart—The people-helping-people philosophy of America First is strong, deeply rooted, and has remained a guiding principle since our founding in 1939. We feel that being a conscientious corporate citizen is paramount to our relevance. We will continue working with our schools, communities, and organizations that foster the greater good to make a meaningful difference. Examples of these efforts include supporting food drives, conducting our Warm the Soles of Kids campaign, contributing to the 100% For Kids Credit Union Education Foundation, making grants through our charitable foundation, supporting children’s hospitals, providing scholarships, and assisting many other worthy causes. Further, our team donates thousands of personal hours to service outreach.

My deepest thanks are extended to our volunteers and staff; their commitment to the membership, whether serving you directly or indirectly, is unrivaled. Most importantly, I express my utmost appreciation to you, our valued members. It is our desire to develop and maintain a lifelong relationship with you and your family.


Security Update: It’s Time to Tidy up your Online Abode

To keep your electronic space safe & secure, you can take advantage of the following tips to remove clutter, upgrade technologies–a digital spring cleaning.

  • Get rid of excess files. Go through your folders, including the recycle bin, and discard unused items.
  • Organize media in labeled files.
  • Streamline your desktop so it’s not inundated with icons that slow you down.
  • Uninstall old programs that haven’t been loaded in ages, reducing the potential for malware.
  • Create unique & strong passwords with a mix of characters and numbers.
  • Back up important data.
  • And please visit us here to learn more about safeguarding your resources.

Bring us your Balances, Save Big & Get a Cash-Back Bonus

For a limited time, when you transfer balances from other institutions to your America First Visa® credit account, we’ll pay* you 3% of the amount you move!

That’s right, instead of facing a balance-transfer fee, we’ll deposit money in your account.

Plus, you’ll benefit from:

  • Low rates
  • No annual fees
  • Free Card Guard® mobile security
  • Free identity theft recovery
  • Much more

Apply today.

*Total cash return cannot exceed $300. Eligibility, terms & conditions apply. Offer valid through March 31, 2017. Incentive will be paid to member’s share savings account within three (3) calendar week of balance transfer. Not available on business accounts or balances transferred from existing America First loans. Cannot be combined with any other offers. Federally insured by NCUA/Equal Opportunity Lender.

Make the Most of your Return

Got a tax refund coming?

Invest it in our certificate accounts and get even more out of your money.

Rates are at their highest since 2010 and we have some amazing options with competitive dividends and terms:

  • Bump & dedicated savings
  • Flexible and ladder
  • IRA & regular certificates

Open yours today.

Financially Fit Friday 10 Tips For Talking Finances With Your Spouse

HELOC: Use Your Home’s Value to Improve It

With spring around the corner, many homeowners start thinking about the improvements they’ve been putting off all winter. If your to-do list is long, but your cashflow is short, you might want to consider a home equity line of credit, also known as a HELOC.

These loans give you access to the value you’ve worked so hard to build and they provide the flexibility you need to make your projects a reality.

Many people don’t take advantage of their equity until it’s time to sell. With a HELOC, you can borrow up to 100% of your home’s value, minus your mortgage balance, right now. You can then use those funds to make unexpected repairs, complete residential enhancements to increase the resale value or accomplish pretty much anything you see fit.

One of the nice things about a HELOC is that it’s open-ended, meaning you can draw out money up to the approved limit and pay it back as needed — similar to a credit card, but with much better rates and terms. So, for example, if you’re remodeling your bathroom and you discover that your water heater needs to be replaced, your line of credit could cover that expense as well, without any additional applications or processing.

America First offers an interest-only HELOC, which gives you the lowest possible monthly payments for the first five years. During that time, called the draw period, you’ll only pay the loan’s interest back. When the draw period ends, the loan balance converts to a 10-year repayment plan. At that time, you can start paying down the principal or refinance your interest-only HELOC and start another five-year draw period.

However, please keep in mind that any interest-only HELOC principal balance still needs to be paid at some point. And defaulting on any home equity loan could result in foreclosure. You should practice responsible borrowing and only tap what you can reasonably pay back during the loan’s term. Using a HELOC in this way will help keep you out of financial trouble and give you short-term cashflow for home repairs and improvements.